Kazakhstan weightlifter Ilya Ilyin lit up the ExCel at London 2012 when he rewrote the sport’s history books – and in somewhat nonchalant style.
The 24-year-old world champion hauled 233kg in the clean and jerk and 185kg in the snatch to emerge victorious with a total of 418kg – relegating his close rival Alexandr Ivanov to take silver and setting two new world records in the process.
After completing all six of the lifts he attempted he became the first weightlifter to successfully defend an Olympic title at the London Games, thrilling fans from home in the crowd.
His flawless lifting in the men’s 94kg category was one of four golds for Kazakhstan, which challenged China’s weightlifting supremacy.
And afterwards he put his success down in part to a decision by his country’s National Olympic Committee to import horsemeat, a crucial part of his training diet.
He said: ‘I have to be careful with what I eat. Chicken and horsemeat are the best foods for weightlifting, good food is very important.’
Ilyin said winning in London was a different experience from Beijing, where he won gold lifting 12kg less than in London.
He added: ‘There I was four years younger and now I’m a different person. I’ve had different experiences and my personality has changed.
‘The training was not that much different but the quality of my victory here is very, very different. I think last year in Paris (at the World Championships) I was already different but here, at the age of 24, I gave everything for this triumph. It’s not just a gold medal for me, it’s my personal triumph.’
Ilyin is a star in Kazakhstan, having won the country its first ever weightlifting world title aged 17, taking the junior and senior World Championship titles in 2005 and again in 2006. As well as his two Games gold medals he has won three world titles and the Asian Games in 2010.
And he won an army of new followers at the ExCel, who were thrilled by his relaxed, no-frills approach to lifting extraordinarily heavy loads.
While some rivals took great pains to compose themselves before a lift, Ilyin’s routine consisted of a swift march to the bar, a brief bow, then a single, smooth lift to head height, followed by a swift final push to lock his arms above his head.
It was an awesome display of controlled power, each lift over almost before it had started.
Having secured the gold medal, Ilyin’s no-fuss capture of the world record with his third lift further endeared him to spectators. Of his new 418kg total weight world record, he said: ‘That’s what I was aiming for, and it’s going to stay for a long time.’